Earlier this month, the ten best Rocket League teams from around the globe arrived at the MGM National Harbor Resort in Washington D.C. for the fourth Rocket League Championship Series World Championship (RLCS).
The sold-out crowd was electric as fan favorites from North America like G2 and Cloud 9 took the stage. For three days, fans in attendance and the millions watching via Twitch cheered for their favorite hopeful trio. At the end of Championship Sunday, Europe’s own Galeforce Esports took home the trophy for the first time. But the weekend was about more than just crowning a new champion. It suggested that there’s been a shift at the top of the “Rocket League” food chain.
The team made up of Kaydop, ViolentPanda and Turbopolsa taking home the trophy, and in such dominant fashion, wasn’t a surprise to many. Even before Gale Force was on their recent run of “Rocket League” supremacy, they were consistently on the podium, settling for second place finishes at Dreamhack Atlanta, X-Games Invitational and DreamHack Summer earlier this year. With two recent wins at RLCS Season four and the 2v2 Universal Open, Gale Force have all but put an end to the question who’s the best in the world. That’s a question that’s been tough to answer up until recently.
There have been four RLCS World Championships so far with four different teams raising the trophy at the end of each weekend. There’s only one player who has two RLCS wins, and that’s Turbopolsa who won this year on Gale Force and last year for Northern Gaming where he filled in as a substitute. Not only has a single team never repeated a championship run, the landscape of teams competing has been drastically different.
There’s only one player still competing at the RLCS level from the first season’s championship team and that’s Kronovi of team G2. Season 2’s winner in Flipside Tactics failed to qualify for this season of the RLCS World Championship. The two members of Season 3’s winning team, Northern Gaming, who aren’t Turbopolsa now play for team Envy who also failed to qualify for the World Championship on the EU side. It’s not that different teams are competing at the end of the world championship bracket each season. It’s that former leaders of the sport aren’t even in the conversation.
(Gale Force takes RLCS gold in Season Four)
This season also solidified a long-running opinion that Europe is the dominant region in the sport. Ever since North America’s Kronovi and team iBuyPower beat the competition in Season One, Europe has claimed it for their own in each following season. Not only has a North American team not won it all since Season One, a North American team hasn’t even made it to the Grand Finals since Season One.
Method, another EU team that has had strong showings all year long, faced Gale Force in the finals. This was Method’s first ever RLCS appearance, but an excellent 2017 suggests that they’ll be on the edge of the top spot for a long time. They finished second in RLCS Europe this season, second at the World Championship and second at the 2v2 Universal Open. Their performance has been trending way up all year.
After his win, ViolentPanda of Gale Force let his thoughts be known about the EU/NA skill gap. “I still think there is a skill gap. Of course, it’s obvious with two European teams in the finals,” Violent Panda said. “But, Cloud 9 was the team that was coming close. They got third, so maybe not what they expected, but that’s still a good result. I think that Cloud 9 is probably the only team that’s on the EU level right now.”
(Method had a strong second place finish in their first RLCS appearance)
That means that according to one of the voices of the current “Rocket League” powerhouse, Cloud 9, a team that was unsigned earlier this year and just competed in their first RLCS, is the only team right now that can compete with EU’s skill level. This suggests that the top of the NA “Rocket League” scene is also shifting.
This RLCS World Championship was not a good weekend for North American teams. Every team except for Ghost Gaming was sent to the lower bracket after losses on the very first day. That includes Cloud 9 who faced a crushing overtime defeat in a five-game series against PSG Esports. However, they shock off that loss and won two series in the lower bracket to finish third. NRG, one of the biggest names on the NA side, was knocked out of the bracket without having won a single series. This is their third straight RLCS World Championship appearance, but also their most disappointing showing.
Cloud 9 is a young team with loads of potential. Some of their flashy plays from the weekend show that they can definitely hang with EU’s best. As NA’s current best hope at reclaiming an RLCS Championship, they’ll almost certainly be back on that stage next season. The rest of NA is a big question mark.
(Despite a disappointing first day, Cloud 9 battled back for a third place finish)
Then there’s the question of “how.” How does an entire region get surpassed after looking like an early dominant force? “Rocket League” is young. The game just celebrated its second birthday and there have already been four World Championships. Even at the highest level, players are learning new tricks, plays and tactics. If you don’t believe that, look at the highlights from Season One and then compare them to the best plays at Season Three. The game has already evolved drastically. Because the sport is so young, there was bound to be some jockeying for positions at the top spots. New younga and gifted players are starting to replace the old guard from Season One. With two established years of statistics, and Gale Force showing a consistent track record of strength, it looks like we may have our first long-running champs of the sport.
All of these theories of EU dominance will be put to the test next month when “Rocket League” joins TBS’ Eleague for the first time. This will be the first major tournament for the sport since this month’s RLCS. It’s an invitational tournament that has all but been confirmed to include the top eight teams from the World Championships. If true, there will be four teams from EU, three teams from NA and Chiefs who will represent the Oceania region after their eighth place finish. That also means NA’s NRG didn’t make the cut.
Will this Season 4 of RLCS be another blip on the radar for the teams involved, and will next season usher in new stars to replace those currently on the top of the leaderboards? That remains to be seen. But, at least for this moment, it looks like “Rocket League” may be in its first long-running era of professional dominance. That era is owned by Gale Force Esports, with Method waiting in the wings for the challenge.